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Seventeen-year-old Simon lies in a coma, finding his space and time overlapping with that of a man who was lynched over 200 years ago, while a member of the cheating ring he has been helping wonders if their actions have caused the plagues assaulting their New Jersey town.
The sirens didn't wake Danny Giannetti because he hadn't yet gone to bed. He sat on the porch roof outside his bedroom window, watching in wonder as, below, thousands of peepers converged on the front lawn. If he lay on his stomach and leaned carefully over the edge, his fingers clamped on the rusting gutter guards, he could see the frogs on the steps, on the porch railing, on the pillars. Their green bodies, almost black in the moonlight, were dark splotches on the white paint.
His first thought, when the emergency siren sounded, was that the town had declared war on the frogs. He half expected to see fire trucks tear down the street, firefighters blasting holes in the blanket of frogs with their hoses, half expected a cavalcade of police cars, with sharpshooter cops hanging from the windows, firing nonstop as peepers sprang into the air, looking like clay pigeons as they leaped for their lives. But the emergency siren stopped. And the distant moan of police car and ambulance sirens didn't seem to be coming anywhere near Maple Avenue, where Danny lay on the porch roof, listening carefully.
Once in a while, if you paid close attention, Bellehaven might give up one of its secrets. Somewhere in town behind one of these closed doors, maybe a life-and-death emergency was unfolding. Or maybe a crime, a robbery, or even a murder. Danny was hopeful, beside himself with anticipation.
About the Novels of Joyce McDonald
Joyce McDonald is a new and powerful voice in thriller fiction for teenagers. Like Lois Duncan’s protagonists, McDonald’s teenage characters stumble into dangerous territory, and along the way must make moral and ethical decisions that will fundamentally affect their future. Whether it’s computer crime, a stray gunshot, arson, or an accidental murder, McDonald promises her readers a gripping story. Her characters might be recognizable from the nightly news or the front pages of local newspapers, but the consequences they suffer turn their misdeeds into a “reality check” for teen readers and force them to think about the serious outcomes of teenage crime in the United States.
Ask the group to look in the newspaper or news magazines and find articles about computer crimes in our nation. How might such crimes be considered white-collar crimes? Outline rights and responsibilities that schools should teach students regarding computer technology.
Questions for Discussion
1.Joyce McDonald describes the town of Bellehaven as a beautiful bucolic spot: “. . . Victorian homes nestled between ancient oaks and maples . . . the very sight of it could take your breath away especially in the spring when all of Edgewood Avenue was shimmering with crabapple blossoms.” Yet the town has a very dark history. What is its secret, and how is the town being punished for it now?
2.The main characters in Shades of Simon Gray are Simon Gray, Devin McCafferty, Kyle Byrnes, Danny Giannetti, and Liz Shapiro. Discuss each of the characters and their relationships. Who among the people you know are like any of them?
3.Danny Giannetti believes “You don’t have to play the game, you just have to know how to win it.” Kyle Byrnes lives by the creed “Do anything you want, the trick is make sure no one ever finds out and if they do . . . lie like hell.” Even Liz Shapiro, who believes she is an honest person, secretly removes an antique journal from the historical society to work on a report. She rationalizes: “They would never miss it. She would return it in a few days and no one would ever be the wiser.” What do you think influenced these kids to formulate philosophies that allow them to comfortably behave so dishonestly?
4.A 2002 study of 4500 high school students across the country by Rutgers University’s Management Education Center found that 75 percent of the students surveyed engaged in serious cheating. Common student responses were: “I actually think cheating is good.” “A person who has an honest life can’t succeed.” How is this survey relevant to Shades of Simon Gray? How do you and your classmates feel about cheating? How does the larger world of politics, business, and media affect your attitudes? Be honest!
5.Shades of Simon Gray raises questions of ethics and ethical behavior. What ethical dilemmas do you face outside school? Do your friends influence the choices you make? Would you do something unethical to please them?
6.Of all the conspirators, Devin is the only one who rejects the rewards she receives as a result of “the project.” What is the turning point for her? Does your opinion of Devin change by the end of the novel?
7.Before Simon’s accident, what clues indicate that he might have crashed the car on purpose?
8.“The way Simon was beginning to see it was, there were two ways out of this place: you either pulled yourself up or you let them hang you.” Simon knows he has a choice. The visions or out-of-body experiences he has while in a coma help him come to a decision. How do his encounters with Jessup Wildemere help him make his choice?
9.“He found himself outside his room, near the nurses’ station, where two doctors were talking. He tried waving his hands over his head to get their attention, but the doctors never so much as glanced his way. Within seconds Simon’s ears filled with a strange whooshing sound. He felt himself propelled like smoke through the stem of a pipe, right into his body.” The belief that critically ill patients can have out-of-body experiences is a very controversial one. Where do you stand on the issue? Do you believe Simon’s experiences are real? Propose an alternative explanation.
10.Shades of Simon Gray demonstrates that normally honest, law-abiding citizens can be manipulated and corrupted into committing illegal acts, whether in 1798 or in the present. What was it about the people of Havenhill that allowed them to hang a man without a trial and then lie about it? Does it make any difference that they were ignorant of the truth? Simon knew he was being manipulated by Kyle, Devin, and Danny, yet he still chose to get involved in “the project.” What was Simon’s sin?
11.When they need quiet time and a place for serious thinking, the characters in Shades of Simon Gray find their way down to the river. What is it about a river that makes it conducive to thinking? Talk about where you go to be alone to think.
12.Joyce McDonald often takes advantage of the multiple meanings of words she uses–for example, the expression a murder of crows and the words shades of gray in the title. Talk about the author’s use of language and how it helps to set a tone and to give richness to the novel.
This guide was prepared by Clifford Wohl, educational consultant.
Posted July 26, 2005
The book is another example of Joyce McDaniel's excellent writing abilities. The novel expertly ties in the past with the present through personal emotions and experiences.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 3, 2005
I thought this book was ok..the many plots and characters that entertwine get a little confusing sometimes. If i can remember there are a few stories...Simons story, of course, then some of his friends..their stories...then Simons father and sister...and some of his teachers. If i picked up the book one day, i had no idea where i left off because it was so confusing. There were parts i enjoyed though- The talking to Jessup Wildemere was great though..i really did enjoy that part. If you are into mystery books this is definetly for you...you'll really enjoy it. Once again, it was good, but not greatWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 2, 2005
This book is for someone like me. If you like to have a mystery novel with a touch of history to it, than this is a book for you. It's catching beinging, grabs your attention and holds on to you til the end. I hope you read Shades of Simon Gray and enjoy it too. ( :Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 20, 2004
I was originally looking for a 'blue ribbon' or what-not book for the test students take, with books based on reading level and such. Out of the many books I found, this was by far the best of them. I ended up reading this one first, the other two, and a little bit of this one again. Most of the time the book is easy to follow along. Predicting what will happen is one thing that isn't easy in this book; regardless of such, what happens still ends up very interesting. It leaves some leeway to be creative, but still sticks to details. Very nice book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 25, 2001
The Shads Of Simon Gray was a great book! I enjoyed the mystery of what was going to happen next the whole time! I couldnt put this book down and neither will you!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 20, 2009
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